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Maureen Swanson is the scourge of the neighborhood. At age nine, she already has a reputation as a hard slapper, a loud laugher, a liar, and a stay-after-schooler. The other kids call her Stinky. So sometimes when Maureen passes the crumbling (and haunted?) Messerman mansion, she imagines that she is Maureen Messerman–rich, privileged, and powerful. Then she finds a way into the forbidden, boarded-up house. In the hall are portraits of seven young women wearing elaborate gowns and haughty expressions. Maureen has something scathing to say to each one, but then she notices that the figures seem to have shifted in their frames. So she reaches out her finger to touch the paint–just to make sure–and touches . . . silk! These seven daughters of privilege are colder and meaner than Maureen ever thought to be. They are wicked, wicked ladies, and Maureen has something they want. . . .
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Mary Chase was a newspaper reporter, playwright, and novelist. Her best-known play, Harvey, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
The Old Messerman Place
Maureen Swanson was known among the other children in her neighborhood as a hard slapper, a shouter, a loud laugher, a liar, a trickster, and a stay-after-schooler.
Whenever they saw her coming they cried out, “Here comes Old Stinky,” and ran away.
Sometimes she would pretend she hadn’t seen them. She was a good pretender. If she was pretending she was a queen or a movie star or Maureen Messerman, she would not notice. At other times she would chase them, slap the one she caught, then run and hide until the trouble died down.
Her mother often said to her father, “How I wish Maureen could be a little lady: sweet, kind, and nice to everyone.”
He frowned. “She better learn to mind first. She better stop hanging around that Old Messerman Place.”
The Old Messerman Place, which took up half a city block, was walled in, boarded up, deserted. You couldn’t see inside because the brick walls were too high, and the spruce trees growing just inside the walls grew so tall and so close together that even when you threw your head back and looked up, all you could see were four chimneys like four legs on a giant’s table turned upside down.
In the middle of the wall that faced the boulevard hung a pair of high, wide iron gates across a bricked driveway where once carriages pulled by horses had gone rolling into the grounds. You couldn’t see where they had rolled or where they had stopped because just inside the gates tall wooden boards were nailed together and a sign read: Private Property. Keep Out. Trespassers Prosecuted.
Some people insisted the Old Messerman Place was haunted, that at night they often saw lights flickering through the trees and in the daytime they heard a tap-tapping kind of sound like someone pounding with a hammer in there. Occasionally the neighbors called the police, who came down the boulevard with sirens screaming, unlocked the gates, pried open the boards, and looked around.
A row of pigeons, huddled close together on the roof, would watch with beady eyes as the officers tramped through the garden with flashlights, up and down the stairs, in and out of the rooms in the big empty mansion, never finding anything or anyone.
For a few days after these visits the garden would be dark at night and silent in the daytime. Then the lights would flicker again and the tap-tapping sound was heard as before.
Boys were always trying to climb over the high walls. One would stand on the shoulders of another and reach high up, straining and straining, only to jump down panting.
“Can’t make her. She’s too high.”
Maureen Swanson never tried to climb in by straining and reaching high. What she did was talk to herself as she stood by the gates, her fingers holding the iron posts.
“I’m Maureen Messerman. That house is my house.”
One day, two weeks after her ninth birthday, she came home late from school. She had been kept by the teacher to write twenty times on the blackboard: I must not start fights on the schoolground.
She was in a bad humor as she picked up the hose lying on the lawn in the Swansons’ backyard, turned on the water full force, and sent the dry leaves scurrying across the grass, fastening them up against the side of the house. Then she waved the hose up and down and across the house itself, across the windows of the Moodys’ house next door, and then across Mrs. Moody’s clean laundry drying on three lines.
Mrs. Moody ran out of her house. “Stop that,” she screamed. “Stop that—you brat.”
“You brat,” Maureen shouted loudly, and then she waved the hose up and down and across Mrs. Moody herself.
“I’ll fix you.” Mrs. Moody was running across the lawn. Maureen dropped the hose, ran out of the back gate and down the alley. She could hear doors slamming, voices raised, and her mother’s voice calling, wailing, “Maureen. Maureen, you come back here.”
She ran up the street and was flying past the Old Messerman Place when her eyes lit on the boards behind the gates. One board hung open, nailed carelessly after the last visit of the police. She pushed against it and it fell back. She wriggled through the iron palings of the gate, got inside, pushed back the board, and stood against it listening as the feet ran by on the walk outside and the voice called, “Maureen! Maureen! Come back here.”
She looked around. She was in a large garden, overgrown with high grass and weeds. The tall spruce trees grew close together on all sides like protecting, green-needled walls. Across the garden stood a house almost as big as the post office with many windows and balconies, and a wide stone porch with no roof, shaped like a stage and encircled by a low stone balustrade. Three broad steps led down into the garden.
Bushes and grass were growing between the posts of this balustrade, between the bricks on the floor of the porch, and at the wide brown wooden door, as though everything in the garden was trying to grow its way up and into that house. There were no curtains at the windows. Maureen counted four little balconies of stone and iron on the house, four pairs of glass doors behind them. The two windows above each of the balconies looked like eyes watching her.
She waded now, knee deep through the grass and weeds, to a little pool set in stone like a swimming pool, but it wasn’t. An iron boy with an iron fish in his hands looked at her with vacant iron eyes as he held the fish high above the pool, as though just about to throw it into the water below, which was covered with thick, slimy green moss. Paint was peeling off his arms.
Maureen broke off a weed and poked at the moss in the water. She stopped as she heard a tap-tapping sound. A woodpecker, she decided. She smiled and looked for him in the spruce trees but the blue sky got in her eyes. White snowy clouds were moving lazily across the blue. They looked like one big snowman rolling after three little snowmen. She sat down in the grass and watched them happily. Then she lay down and looked up. Wasn’t it wonderful in here!
She sat up quickly when she heard the tapping sound again. Listen! Yes, it was coming—not from the trees—but from there!
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Book Description Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2003. Hardcover. Condition: New. Never used!. Seller Inventory # P11037582572X
Book Description Knopf Books for Young Readers. Hardcover. Condition: New. 037582572X Ships promptly from Texas. Seller Inventory # Z037582572XZN
Book Description Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2003. Hardcover. Condition: New. Brand New!. Seller Inventory # VIB037582572X
Book Description Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2003. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M037582572X
Book Description Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2003. Hardcover. Condition: New. Seller Inventory # DADAX037582572X